Zoinks! Mindy Kaling’s dark Scooby-Doo universe take is a joyless dog
Velma, HBO Max’s spin on Scooby-Doo, should be a treat. Produced by Charlie Grandy and his longtime collaborator Mindy Kaling (who also voices the lead), the show shifts focus from that mangy mutt onto the gang’s nerdy sidekick and her origin story. Though they mean for it to be dark, sharp, and clever, Velma is a real mutt of a show.
When teen misanthrope Velma disguises herself to scare a bunch of naked hot girls showering in the locker room (for some reason), a dead body falls out of a locker. Because she’s at the scene of the crime menacing her classmates, Velma becomes the prime suspect. Though she swore never to investigate a mystery again after her mother’s mysterious disappearance, Velma realizes she must overcome her fears and solve this crime within 24 hours, or she’ll go to prison.
Ever since her mother disappeared, Velma has crippling hallucinations whenever she thinks about mysteries, so she needs her straight-laced best friend Norville (Sam Richardson), and her former best friend Daphne (Constance Wu) to help her figure out what really happened. Local rich jerk Fred (Glenn Howerton) seems suspicious, so the trio decides to investigate his shady actions, which leads to his arrest. From here, there’s more murder and some light blackmail while Daphne deals drugs, Norville pines for Velma, and Fred serves hard time.
They cram this all into two 25 minute episodes.
The heavy take on light comics is hardly fresh, and Velma does itself no favors by calling attention to other successful adaptations, most notably Riverdale. Though Riverdale is howlingly self-serious, the show knows what it’s about. Comparatively, Velma feels more like an interminably long Robot Chicken sketch than an actual show. The wink-wink, nudge-nudge of it is supposed to come from Velma owning her previously coded sexuality, a sober Norville in his pre-Shaggy days hating all drugs, and Daphne…uh…being adopted?
Velma is truly such a joyless disaster, disappointed viewers have come out en masse to find somebody and something to blame, and the prime target is Mindy Kaling. Though Charlie Grandy developed Velma, and he penned the pilot episode, he doesn’t seem to be caught in the crossfire. And, even though she’s voicing a cartoon, people are connecting the failure of Velma to Mindy’s unrelated recent and highly controversial weight loss. Sure, the misogyny is infuriating, but it also overlooks the fact that Velma would be trash regardless of its star, because the concept is a total dog.
It’s offensive that Velma takes the laziest, stalest takes possible and pretends they’re fresh ideas, but it’s even worse that Velma never bothers to offer even one nod of respect to its source material. Scooby-Doo is all about innocent charm, but this adaptation coldly tosses every bit of joy aside in favor of persistent downward punches aimed at every single element of those meddling kids from Crystal Cove and their spooky world. Not only is Velma not funny, it’s also no fun. At least they left Scooby-Doo out of it, so animal cruelty isn’t yet another one of Velma’s unforgivable crimes.